Faith—simple faith—O that I were blesssed with simple faith. Not the complicated faith that is always qestioning, always searching, for that elusive feeling that I am doing proper service to God in Christ. Though the bliss of simple faith beacons me to the peace of Christ, my love of Christ bids me to suffer the tribulations of service. O that He will grant me the satisfaction of service so that I may bear the sorrows of love.
At 30,000 feet, flying from Burbank to Dallas, I looked out the window of the airplane onto some of the most stunning and unusually beautiful clouds that I have ever seen. What made them unusual was not their size—they weren’t large, powerful thunderheads or the frail, wispy streaks of cirrus—they were the kind that you see often after the passing of a storm. The fluffy, puffy kind that sort of look like sheep wandering through the sky. Except these were in a way very different. They looked as if someone had taken a black felt marker and outlined and shaded the tips of each of the billows. As if someone had sifted black soot over the tops of icebergs. Had I seen this depicted by an artist I would have thought that the artist was trying to express the synthesis of allayment and yet sullenness that often comes after a storm. But it wasn’t an artist’s canvas that I saw. It was a picture painted on the sky by God. A picture perhaps expressing the emotions that we feel after we have persevered through some trial or temptation. A picture of unspeakable peace. God portrays himself to us in wondrous ways.
Debate! Faith versus reason! How is it that some are rescued by faith while others succumb to reason? Faith is beyond reason—but reason cannot overcome itself. Reason is the unbroken circle of self—unrecognized as self in its reasoning. How can the circle be broken? What can cause the leap from reason to faith? Certainly not more reason. What power can possibly bring faith to one inexorably trapped within reason? The answer is faith itself! Faith not rising from within reason where it suffocates, but faith from without, where it breathes. The only possibility of resuscitating faith from the stranglehold of reason is the life-giving breath of faith from Christ through the Spirit. Through faith all things are possible, even bringing forth faith out of the bond of reason.
In the Fallen Land
So here I am—sitting at the nearly empty bar in the New Orleans Sheraton, watching the families attending the Southern Baptist Pastors Convention walk to and fro in the lobby. I think, somewhat chidingly, about their questionably strict prohibitions against smoking and drinking and dancing. Most of them are oblivious to me, but some cast a mildly condescending gaze my way, and some of the kids peer curiously toward the bar. They seem to me like a tribe of innocents—wandering in a fallen land.
We are told to be in the world but not of the world. But to what degree? I don’t smoke—it seems like a waste. I don’t dance—often. I do drink—some. I like the taste of beer and scotch (single malt, of course), and cabernet sauvignon. I don’t particularly care for sodas. But I especially hate hangovers. It’s kind of a cruel twist that what I like to drink has alcohol in it. I drink because of the flavors, not the consequences. My doctor once told me that a beer a day was good for me. I guess that a six-pack probably isn’t. All things in moderation—unfortunately.
But what about the Baptists? For them—some things not at all—not even in moderation. Is that the higher stand? Or does it open the door to temptation—a curiosity of things not tasted? Does moderation reduce the risk of overconsumption? Or does a taste lead to overindulgence? I suppose to each his own. We must each decide the degree to which we are to be in the world while remaining uncorrupted by the world. If we are not in the world to some extent, how can we minister to those who are fully engaged? Some may rightly consider it justified to make it through life untouched and unsullied by contact. But is it not more justifiable to risk temptation, to risk even falling, to reach those mired in the depths of worldly desires? We can only pray that we will not only be led not into temptation, but that we can help others be delivered from evil.
A ship plows its way upriver against the current. At its bow, the waters froth and tremble, eventually dividing and calming along one side of the ship or the other. Is this a metaphor for the lives of some people? Drifting lazily through life, like the river flowing down to its end at the sea. Tending toward neither the left bank nor the right, but opting for the non-committal center. Then suddenly there is intrusion—disturbing the calm flow. We flail and churn, finally committed to either the right bank of faith or the left bank of despair. The wake forces us firmly against that bank where we tend to stay. Sometimes when the stern passes by, we are sucked back into midstream, but rarely. O Lord, guide us with your love to the right bank before we are hit with the bow of tribulation.
There comes a point, taxiing down the runway on the way to takeoff, when the pilot must make an extremely critical decision. This is the commitment point—sometimes called the point of no return. The point beyond which the takeoff cannot be aborted. The point, once passed, which cannot be revisited. The point when the pilot musters all of his courage, recalls all of this training, and relies on all of his experience to make a decision—a decision to commit to the takeoff, or abort.
If his courage falters, if his training detects a flaw, if his experience warns him off, he aborts the takeoff. He returns to the terminal—perhaps to try again some time later. But, if his courage, his training, and his experience bring him promise, he makes the commitment to leap to the heavens. Yet this is more than a commitment—this is faith— for this is a life-threatening commitment—an irreversible decision.
In our lives we too may also reach a point of commitment—a point beyond which there is no return. A point when we too are called upon to make a leap of faith. The circumstances are similar. We call upon our courage, our training, and our experience to tell us whether to leap, or to stand fast. But there is also a difference. Unlike the pilot whose desire is for the heavens, our desire is for the earth, the tangible, the touchable security of reality and reason. The call we hear threatens our security. For the leap we are called to make is also to the heavens, the intangible, the untouchable—beyond reason and reality.
The call is strong—but our courage is weak. The call is clear—but our training fogs our vision. The call is secure—but our experience warns us off. We return to the terminal, which for us is actually a terminus, for earthly life leads to a dead end. An end at which the possibilities of what could have been are forfeit. It is then that we learn who called us. But it is too late. We learn that because we lacked faith, because we failed to pass the point of no return, we missed the call to true life. We missed the call of Christ. The call to be with Him in Heaven.
As I sit here reading yet another book, desperately continuing to search You out God, I read about the many who are “famous” in their service to You. While I attempt to live a life pleasing and worthy of You, I have a twinge of jealousy in my heart because I too want to be that kind of faithful servant – famously faithful. I also fear that fame, that it is an end in itself, a desire leading to destruction. But, my yearn to do Your will is consuming so, somehow, I must not care if anyone but You know that I serve You well. All I can do is pray that I have the faith to endeavor to serve well, to pray that I am serving well, and hope that I may be anonymously famous, even to myself.
Reflections from the Nest
I feel like an eaglet peering out of the nest at the open space below. Tentatively stretching my wings, preparing for the day I try my first soar. I was blessed for 18 years in sharing a home with a truly spiritual man. Like the father eagle, his familiarity with the high places enabled him to watch over and protect the nest. But now he as soared to new heights to be with the Father of all Eagles. Now it is my turn to try my wings. Will I too, someday, be able to soar to those heights of majesty? Maybe, for the father eagle taught me well. It will be enough, though, just to fly the straight and narrow as best I can. For if I do, I will myself finally ride the rising thermal to find the nest of the Father of all Eagles.
The Father Eagle